Knowing my great interest in Edinburgh’s pubs, a number of my acquaintances have recently drawn my attention to the Edinburgh Evening News’ Best Bar 2014 competition. Do you agree, they ask? Well, no. And that is no reflection on the eventual winner, The Mercat near Musselburgh, I just don’t agree with a random public vote to determine these things that is purely designed to sell papers and gather marketing data and has nothing to do with identifying quality boozers.
First of all, anything that gets people talking about pubs and celebrating pubs is a good thing and hats off to the Edinburgh Evening News for doing that. It’s a great marketing exercise for them as well as the pubs involved. However, my issue is that when people now Google for the best pubs in Edinburgh, potential visitors to the city perhaps, they are going to get a completely arbitrary collection of some good, some bad and some indifferent pubs – essentially a list of pubs who decided to badger their customers to take part in this poll. Indeed, the Evening News itself admits in the article: “To snag the top spot, The Mercat Bar and Grill had to beat some of the Capital’s top pubs and clubs.” Some? If you’re going to declare somewhere the best, surely it has to beat everywhere else? Let’s face it, the best pubs in Edinburgh probably didn’t even bother. They will have better spent their time serving decent drinks to happy customers than desperately scrabbling around in an attempt to win a popularity contest.
Why was it about selling papers? Well, check the rules of the competition and postal votes counted double. Why? Surely that’s not standard practice – I don’t think this occurred in the recent referendum, for example. But, hang on, a postal vote involves cutting out a coupon from an actual copy of the Evening News. And photocopies are unacceptable, of course. I see what they’ve done there. You could text instead but that would cost you £1, leave you open to marketing from Johnston Press and wider (how to avoid this was buried at the end of the T&Cs), and of course your vote would only count once. Not like those gold-plated postal votes. Email was your third option but again you’d be straight into that marketing database.
Every year CAMRA puts a huge amount of effort into scoring pubs for its Good Beer Guide – members visit and score all premises in their area that serve real ale and score them on both the quality of the beer and the pub overall. I’m not sure the Evening News’ process was quite so rigorous yet they claim to achieve the same outcome. Now, I know that some of the pubs on the Evening News list are probably community places, local pubs. I know myself when I lived in south London that I spent a lot of time in a very average pub but I went there because it was local and I knew the people in there. That certainly did not make it south London’s finest, however.
When they set out on this competition back in October, they wrote: “With your help, the competition will, once and for all, settle the great debate about the best watering hole in Edinburgh and the Lothians.” So, the list below accurately reflects the best Edinburgh pubs (and pubs slightly further afield) that are out there?
The Evening News Top 10 (in no particular order)
- Mercat Bar and Grill, Whitecraig Road, Musselburgh
- Norhet, Main Street, Davidson’s Mains
- Mash Tun, Easter Road
- Staggs, North High Street, Musselburgh
- Café Habana, Greenside Lane
- Tynecastle Arms, Gorgie Road
- Harbour Inn, Fishmarket Square, Newhaven
- Ye Olde Inn, Main St, Davidson’s Mains
- Thomsons Bar, Morrison Street
- Dickens Bar, Dalry Road
I hate to be a moan, particularly at this time of year, but anyone can see that the above is not a list of Edinburgh’s finest pubs. I’d go so far as to say it’s an embarrassment to a city that boasts so many decent ones.
Now, obviously I can’t say all this without proposing my own top 10 best Edinburgh pubs. So here is my entirely arbitrary list of what I believe to be the capital’s finest. Clearly, I have not visited every pub in Edinburgh (and I am very much Edinburgh rather than Lothians-based) but I have been drinking here a long time and like to think I know a thing or two. I am also biased towards more traditional, real ale selling establishments, but you tend to find that if a pub takes good care of its ale, it will similarly look after its food, its decor and, most importantly, its customers.
The Bar Fly Top 10 (again, in no particular order)
- John Leslie’s, Causewayside
- The Fountain, Fountainbridge
- Guildford Arms, West Register Street
- Bennets Bar, Tollcross
- Cloisters, Tollcross
- Golden Rule, Polwarth
- Malt & Hops, The Shore
- Thomson’s Bar, Morrison Street (snap!)
- Queens Arms, Frederick Street
- Regent, Abbeyhill
I shall leave my rant there. I appreciate that top fives, top 10s or the 100 best whatever are entirely subjective and the newspaper can say that this is a list that was compiled by its readers and it was merely the conduit. I just think it’s a shame that Edinburgh’s respected daily journal has put its name to a clearly flawed list.